Is NASCAR Headed for Another Year of Dominance by Joe Gibbs Racing?

Monte DuttonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2016

In NASCAR, Richard Petty (left) defines the top. Joe Gibbs is there now.
In NASCAR, Richard Petty (left) defines the top. Joe Gibbs is there now.Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Getting Joe Gibbs to boast is about as easy as getting Rush Limbaugh to be quiet.

He doesn't do it often. Not even with a superb quartet of Toyota drivers, one of whom is the reigning Sprint Cup champion. Not even after another, Denny Hamlin, won the Daytona 500 eight days after winning the Sprint Unlimited. Not even after his drivers finished first, third, fifth and 14th, respectively, and the one who was 14th led until the final lap.

For Gibbs, it has to be hard to remain humble, but he fights the good fight. A good deal of evidence exists to suggest that he is an exceptional leader. How else could a man who once coached three Super Bowl-winning football teams, with three separate quarterbacks, run the best team in NASCAR?

Coach Gibbs (right) has a pretty fair lineup.
Coach Gibbs (right) has a pretty fair lineup.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

"I was a technical person in football," Gibbs said after Hamlin's victory. "I loved that, calling the plays, being in the middle of the storm, hurricane ... Over here, when the race starts, they disconnect my radio and I walk around with cords dragging on the ground."

Gibbs makes a good warm-up act for his winning driver, whichever one it happens to be from week to week. His presence is calming. He tries to depict his team's relationship with its sponsors as only slightly less intimate than his with the Lord.

"The Lord has blessed us with a great experience today and we're going to enjoy it," Gibbs decreed, though there were no reports of thunderous approval from on high.

This refreshing throwback to an America of county fairs and malt shops is liked in the same way as Ike. His racing empire is on top, and the last thing Gibbs wants to encourage is recognition of that lofty occupation.

En route to an one one-hundredth-second victory over Martin Truex Jr. in a non-Gibbsian Toyota, Hamlin bulled his way past a teammate, Matt Kenseth, with dispatch that was a bit untoward. Gibbs assured everyone that bygones will be bygones.

Denny Hamlin (11) prevailed, in part, at the expense of Matt Kenseth (20).
Denny Hamlin (11) prevailed, in part, at the expense of Matt Kenseth (20).Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

"I really just kind of wanted to listen to him (Kenseth) because you don't know if he's really upset or what," Gibbs said. "Matt is the consummate teammate. He knows how to handle things."

Based on the events of last year, Joey Logano might quibble with that assessment, but that was then and this is now.

"He was not upset," Gibbs said further of Kenseth. "He was matter-of-fact. He said, 'Man, I was wanting to be the guy that got this for you.' We had a good talk. He didn't really refer to anything that happened in the race or anything."

There you have it. Gibbs quoting Kenseth as saying everything is swell.

Kenseth, pensive.
Kenseth, pensive.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Directly, what Kenseth said was, "Well, I didn't get a photo finish, so I was back in Turn 3 somewhere. No, if I can't win, I want my teammate to win. That's what being teammates is all about is getting everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing running good and we did today. Those guys (Hamlin's) got the finish. I didn't, unfortunately."

All's well that ends well. Plenty of potential victories remain to spread around. Kenseth, Cup champion Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are like yapping puppies waiting for their strips of beef.

All four drivers are reliable and tested. All have come close to winning championships. Kenseth and Busch have won titles, albeit 12 years apart. Winning the Daytona 500 isn't much of a predictor of the champion, but winning it has the effect, for now, of lifting Hamlin to the top of the pecking order.

Joe Gibbs Racing All-Time Numbers

Most of the race was a chess match. The end was a Tilt-A-Whirl at one of those county fairs Gibbs conjures up. Hamlin, like those around him, was waiting from fifth or sixth place for a time to pounce. His lightning-quick, spur-of-the-moment moves were better than everyone else's...

By eight to 12 inches.

Denny Hamlin is the first Virginian to win the Daytona 500 since Ward Burton in 2002.
Denny Hamlin is the first Virginian to win the Daytona 500 since Ward Burton in 2002.Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

"It's crazy," Hamlin said. "It happened so fast. I literally had to watch it back (i.e., see a replay) to figure out what in the world happened."

The rival armies limp on to Atlanta while Hamlin's triumph will be toasted from coast to coast.

One imagines Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, brooding in private while his teams assess and repair Daytona damage. The average finish was 25.5. The average sheet metal was dented.

One race, not even one as big as the Daytona 500, does not make a season. Almost every year, someone who runs well in the 500 virtually disappears for the rest of the year. Only one other track, Talladega, resembles Daytona in terms of its controlled lunacy.

Atlanta, as overlooked as it may be in the luster of what just happened, will offer a more focused concept of what lies ahead.

What Joe Gibbs Racing achieved in Daytona Beach was no fluke. No question marks lie ahead at any track. His team has only fleeting mastery. Hendrick, Penske and Stewart-Haas aren't far behind. It's too early to tell where the outcome of the fresh season lies, be it driver, team or manufacturer.

What's not too early to tell is that JGR has picked up where it left off, and the owner takes it upon himself to make double-darn sure no one gets a big head.


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All quotes are taken from NASCAR media, team and manufacturer sources unless otherwise noted.